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Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7176


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (15:27): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Human Services (Senator Payne) to a question without notice asked by Senator Whish-Wilson today relating to free trade agreements.

Firstly, Senator Abetz may wish to reflect on what a funny business politics is and the irony of the fact that the CFMEU hugged both himself and the previous Prime Minister John Howard into power in 2007. In this chamber in recent weeks, the attack on that organisation has been relentless.

I want to talk about trade deals. If you were observing the political system in this country from afar or even up close in recent months you would be correct to assume that this government has no other economic vision for this country than free trade deals. Three free trade deals have been signed, a couple more are in the wings and a couple of large multilateral deals are also looked at being signed. The problem with these free trade deals, as the Productivity Commission has pointed out, is that they are always oversold and they always underdeliver, especially bilateral deals like the Chinese free trade deals.

In the last two weeks we have heard nothing but dorothy dixers from this government on the supposed benefits and rivers of gold that are going to flow from these free trade deals. The Greens exposed today, as we did last Thursday, that these claims are based on a lie, and if they are not based on a lie they are based on a very serious and embarrassing mistake. Last Thursday, we asked the minister why Treasury do not factor the supposed billions of dollars worth of wealth-creating revenue in this country into their growth forecasts, and they said they were not significant enough. DFAT said the same thing. In this instance, we are dealing with hundreds and thousands of jobs and we have heard about it in this chamber from Minister Abetz and in the other place from the Prime Minister and from Minister Robb. They are out there saying that these free trade deals are going to deliver up to 178,000 new jobs by 2035.

I seek leave to table the last page of the economic report by the Centre for International Economics that I referred to in my first question. The report is on the DFAT website.

Leave granted.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: This analysis highlights the expected increase in net employment from the three trade deals the government signed, starting in 2016 and based on a base from 2015 through to 2035. There are different numbers each year of jobs that would be created but in 2035, after 20 years in operation, these three trade deals are going to produce 5,434 jobs. What the government has done is taken the 20 years of numbers and added them all together. If I had $1,000 in my bank account at the end of the year and I kept it in there for another year, I will not have $2,000; I will still have $1,000. It is a very simple mistake and it is a very big mistake. Unfortunately, it has been the basis of their rhetoric and their spin for two solid weeks. It is on the front page of every newspaper. It has dominated question time here in the Senate and in the other place, and it is based on a total lie or a huge embarrassing mistake.

All I am asking for some intellectual honesty about these trade deals because it is the central plank of this government's economic vision for Australia. It was the first thing that the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, talked about when he did his press conference. I know because I snuck out to listen. He talked about the Chinese free trade deal and getting it back on track. It is all we have heard about. But here we have evidence from the government's own modelling that in 20 years time three free trade deals are going to deliver 5,000 jobs. That may not be the case—it may be more than that or it may be less than that—but let us have some perspective in this debate because this is a politicisation of these trade deals. If anyone dares criticise them or asks relevant questions about what is in our national interest—like inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement clauses or changes to labour conditions or that it is the first time investment facilitation agreements have ever been included in a trade deal—they get shot to pieces. It is reasonable for us as parliamentarians to ask these questions. The Greens have pointed out today that the numbers the government are touting are total BS. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.